It’s March 6th 2019, and Zack Snyder’s feature length adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen is 10 years old.
I’ve spent all day writing this piece and each time I try to tackle it, I feel as though there’s something missing. As though I can’t seem to put it together in the perfect way. And honestly, that’s the situation when you look at Watchmen. It’s not an easy story. It’s complex and almost so complex it becomes convoluted. But overall it’s a literary masterpiece. In some ways the 2009 film directed by Zack Snyder is the same. It’s a complex piece that asks a lot of us, and doesn’t give us a definitive answer. It’s not something that you can look at once or twice and say, this is what works and this is what doesn’t. Because there’s so much more to it than that.
Watchmen is the type of story that completely depends on who you are and how you feel and what you believe in when you go into it. When you walk away from it, you may feel the same, but you may also shift your way of thinking significantly. It may in fact lead you to change the way you view superheroes, politics, and the world as a whole. Because that’s what good literature does. It helps deconstruct the world we live in, and begs us to ask questions of ourselves. Watchmen, both the book and film, do exactly that.
When I first read Watchmen, it was the fall of 2008. I had just voted in a presidential election for the first time, and Barack Obama was elected as our first African American President. The film came out the following spring, when I was preparing to go to college after taking two years off to assess where I wanted to go in life. Having been raised on comic books and films, and having a passion for superheroes, Watchmen meant something deep to me, and at this point in my life and in this world it meant even more.
We quickly became a world where everything was visible. Where social media grew to control the way we see the world. And where the world began to see every aspect of our heroes and our villains. In an instant a person we’ve come to believe is righteous, could be knocked down with a twitter thread, or an Instagram post. The people we thought were despicable could be turned into heroes thanks to things they would do that they wouldn’t advertise to the world, because they didn’t care to publicize it. We saw more truth and even more lies, and we continue to do so every single day.
All of these things have led the story of Watchmen to remain consistently relevant. The story asks us to question what makes a hero. It asks us to think deeply about how we feel about what we’re told in the public view and what we see for ourselves. It asks us to look beyond the bullshit, and search for the truth in the world. It also reminds us that the truth of the world isn’t as polished as those who write the history books would sometimes like us to believe. There is good and bad in all of us, and the question is how much we decide to delve into either side, and how that decision affects not only us but all of those around us. Nothing is simple. Nothing is easy. There is no cut and dry question or answer. But that’s life.
I could sit here all day and talk about the good and bad elements of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. That it remains nearly identical to it’s source material. That at times it shifts away from it in ways only a film could. That the ending for better or worse is different in a slightly fundamental way. That most of the cast is spot on. That it’s a shame that Jackie Earle Haley hasn’t gotten more high caliber work since the film’s release. That we’ve taken far too long to appreciate Patrick Wilson. That Carla Gugino and Jeffrey Dean Morgan really fucking knocked it out of the park. But that’s for another time.
With HBO soon releasing a new Watchmen series later this year, that is said to be a continuation of the story we’ve been told thus far, it seems as if there’s a chance that this story can continue to grow with each generation. Because Watchmen isn’t a story that is done at the end of the final panel or frame. It’s a story that evolves with the audience. It’s a story that means different things to different people at different times. No matter how people come into it. It continues to grow and change. And for that reason the story, the book, the film, are important.
This world continues to be a place where light and dark fight tooth and nail. Where it’s unclear if we’re about to be blown to smithereens or if peace may be on the horizon. But no matter what it’s important that we continue to ask questions. It’s important that even when things seem to be going our way, we ask why it’s doing so. That we question the truth constantly. Even if it appears as though we’re becoming conspiracy theorists. It’s never a good idea to take an easy win at face value when the fight has been complicated.
I leave you with two quotes from the book and film that I think matter the most once we leave this story. Because it’s five minutes to midnight, and that’s all I’ve got.
“No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”
“’In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”